The St. Louis Pirates Baseball Club works tirelessly at
providing young players with unlimited opportunities. And when Pirates
owner/operator Rick Strickland looks toward Jupiter, Fla., in late October, he
sees opportunities with a capital “O”.
The 85-team Perfect Game WWBA World Championship is being
held in Jupiter this weekend (Oct. 21-25) and Strickland has tried to make sure
he’s had a team at the prestigious event every year since 2004.
“It is a tremendous opportunity for the kids,” Strickland
said. “I just wrote an email to a parent that said it’s the best baseball
experience that I can even think of as far as where these kids are concerned.
We’re very fortunate we get a chance to do it and to take another group down in
The St. Louis Pirates Baseball Club will complete its 12th
year of operation after the WWBA World Championship. The Pirates started out as
a fall-only program that got noticed when it started winning an annual tournament
over in Tennessee on a regular basis.
They kept going to the Tennessee tournament and kept having
a lot of success and eventually Strickland hooked his team up with Perfect
“They gave us the opportunity to come to Jupiter a couple of
times in 2004 and ’05, and they encouraged us to start doing summer stuff,”
Strickland said. “We started doing the summer stuff in 2007 and from there our
program really kind of took off.”
It’s a program that grew from two teams in 2007 to seven
teams this past summer. Strickland hopes to field 11U and 13U teams in 2011 and
could have as many as 14 teams next year.
“We were more on the showcase side of it when we first
starting out, and as we started getting younger and younger players we kind of
moved into more of a training standpoint. We’re training and developing players
more than anything else,” Strickland said.
Strickland said the St. Louis Pirates are modeled after some
of the other successful programs in the country in that they emphasize training
The Pirates organization has its own 27,000 square foot
indoor facility called The Sandlot which is located right in St. Louis that its
players can use the year around. It includes six indoor batting cages, pitching
machines, indoor clay pitching mounds and indoor turf mounds, and is completely
carpeted in field turf.
“We get a lot of work done in it,” Strickland said. “It’s
really focused on baseball training.”
The training leads to more skilled players and skilled
players are the ones who get offered college scholarships. It is to that end
the St. Louis Pirates strive to reach.
“Our No. 1 focus is to get kids to play beyond high school,”
Strickland said. “We know that maybe one-percent of them or even less are ever
going to play in the Major Leagues … but the thing we can pass onto the kids
that leave our program is an opportunity for them to play baseball another four
years, and maybe along the way that will pay for some of their education.”
The Pirates have been among the top programs at Perfect Game
events over the last several years.
The St. Louis Pirates Baseball Club sent four teams to the
East Cobb Complex in Marietta, Ga., for the PG WWBA National tournaments in
June and July and its 18U team finished third at the PG 18U BCS Final in Fort
Myers, Fla., July 14-19. The Pirates have finished second, first and third at
the 18U event the last three years.
The Pirates draw players from outside of the St. Louis area,
and they have picked up several out-of-state players from Texas, Illinois and
Iowa for the World Championship.
“But for the most part, the St. Louis Pirates are a St.
Louis-based team,” Strickland said.
The highest-ranked player on the Pirates’ Jupiter roster is
outfielder/left-handed pitcher Garrett Schlecht (2011, Milstadt, Ill.) who is
Perfect Game’s 315th-ranked national prospect and No. 12 in
Illinois. He has verbally committed to South Alabama.
Right-hander Dakota Freese (2011, Cedar Rapids, Iowa) is
ranked 420th nationally and No. 5 in Iowa. Left-hander Bryant
Holtmann (2011, New Baden, Ill.) is ranked 461-16 and has committed to Florida
The St. Louis Pirates had six former players selected in the
2010 Major League Draft, including two immediately out of high school. Catcher
Jake Depew was taken in the ninth round by the Rays, right-hander Josh Mueller
in the 13th round by the Rockies, right-hander Patrick Doyle in the
24th round by the Reds, Joe Lincoln in the 34th round by
the Dodgers, right-hander Chad Green in the 37th round by the Blue
Jays and left-hander Matt Tracy in the 43rd round by the Marlins.
All of those players participated at Perfect Game events
when they were in high school and playing during the summer and fall for the
Pirates. Strickland values the opportunities the PG events provide.
“It’s been awesome, but it’s become a little bit
more complicated as we grow,” Strickland said. “We want to make sure we send
the right kids to the Perfect Game events because all the all the kids want to
go. It’s been tremendous for our kids with the experience they get, the
competition that they play.”